In retrospect, the reason Mount Kimbie distinguished themselves so clearly was that they weren't dance music through-and-through. Maker and Campos always refer to Mount Kimbie as "the band," and their points of reference—early '00s hip-hop, shoegaze, field recordings—were mostly removed from those of their peers. Sure, they went to FWD>>. But they channelled those experiences in unexpected ways. I spoke to Maker briefly last year about the new-look Mount Kimbie live show, and he hinted at the new direction they were headed in. Where their debut album, Crooks & Lovers, was the natural conclusion to their early sound, Cold Spring Fault Less Youth, their new full-length, which was released earlier this month on Warp, sees them strike out towards fully-formed songs, revelling in musicianship like never before.
I firstly wanted to ask you about Maybes, because when that record dropped it kind of changed things in that time period. Did you set out to do something different from what was out there at the time?
Kai Campos: I don't think so. I don't think we ever set out to do anything different, or be different for the sake of it. That was the first time we thought we were doing something that was worth putting out, you know? It just so happened that the intro [of "Maybes"] was two minutes long and was just a guitar loop. But I don't think it's a very admirable goal to set out to be different. If you're doing something that's honest, then I think at some level you need originality to come through.
Did you feel like you were toying with more established rhythm structures from those that were out there at the time, though?
Kai Campos: To me everything we've done has maybe not been born out of dance music as much as sonically it would lead you to believe. I think the attitude is more similar to hip-hop. I don't really listen to a lot of stuff that comes out now in terms of hip-hop, but when I did, especially in the early '00s, it felt like some things coming out were weird and warped-sounding, which wasn't particularly a shocking thing to do as much as breaking rules in dance music appears to be to a lot of people.
We're very heavily influenced by dance music, but I think where it started from, and our approach, was not that we were conscious of doing something that was that different. We thought that it was just our music.
Were you thinking about the dance floor in the early days?
Kai Campos: We knew so little. For one we were always writing at much slower tempos, and also we couldn't really figure out why sonically these records didn't work [on a dance floor], but it's just because we didn't understand about a lot of mixing techniques that are required to make something really feel good in a club.
Do you think the time and city you were in had a big impact on the public perception of you?
Kai Campos: I think it probably did us more favours than anything else, so it is not something that we can complain about.
You mean in terms of exposure?
Kai Campos: Yeah. It's hard to say, but if that record had come from somewhere in the middle of America and was by two 40-year-old blokes, then you can't get away from the fact of how these things have an effect on how they are perceived and the amount of pressure you get.
So yeah, I think it did us more favours; it put it in a certain context. It was like, "OK, I can understand this, because even though it's a strange record, I can relate to the environment where it came from."
How engaged were you at the time with London club music? I ask because you were framed as being influenced by dubstep.
Dominic Maker: I think at the time that was what we were really excited about. When we were choosing a place to go out or whatever, it was going to see those kind of nights. That was just really ingrained in who we were at the time. We were both students, so we were going out quite a bit, so that really filtered though. We just weren't really aware, everything happened kind of quickly.
What do you think you were bringing to the table from your influences or your background that set you apart?
Kai Campos: Even at that time we weren't as massively into club culture as a lot of people. I guess we never intended to DJ at all, and Paul Rose [Scuba] would say, "You've got to sort out whether you're going to be playing live or not," and we hadn't really thought about it. [But] it was the only option, we never considered doing anything else apart from trying to develop something from us, like a live band, I guess.
Were there things on the recording and production side that defined your style?
Dominic Maker: Yeah, I think we've always hunted down quite poppy melodies.
Do you compose these yourselves, or would they be sampled?
Dominic Maker: It would mainly be just using a keyboard sound, but I think through the whole of our time making music we always get excited by sounds that you just kind of find—found sound. Whether it's a rhythmic thing or melodic thing, just searching in places that are almost surprising to us, and finding things in surprising circumstances.
So field recordings have been a big thing?
Kai Campos: In terms of production and stuff like that, in some ways the first album felt very much like that was the end of something. By the end of the two EPs [Maybes and Sketch On Glass] we were in quite a creatively fertile place, and then by the time we came to do the album, it was a little bit like we knew how to make the record, and it was a good way to finish what we were doing.
With [the new album] it was a case of letting go of a lot of habits of how to make music, and how to garner a reaction to something that sounds emotive, because we definitely felt like we'd said all that we wanted to say in what we were doing. For example, with field recordings, it wasn't like we put an outright ban on it or anything like that, but just some of it didn't happen on this record because it wasn't something that excited us.
You put it in terms of working towards the completion of something or a shared vision. How did you define that between you?
Kai Campos: Just by nodding and looks and being like "ohhh" noises [laughs]. I remember in the beginning it would be little bits, like Dom would say, "Have you seen that Toyota advert?" And I would be like, "Yep." There was an understanding for us both.
When did you first become aware of people aping your sound?
Kai Campos: I don't know, it's definitely bizarre the first time I heard something that was just ridiculous, but there isn't that much that has been massively successful. It's good that we have inspired people to do something, that's genuinely a really good feeling. [But] it just furthered our lack of interest in what we were doing. The thing is, other people were doing it just as well like six months after the album came out. Us going back to that would be pointless.
Dominic Maker: It was so important to let the dust settle from that record… If we had released something else [around that time] then it would have just been untrue to what we wanted to do—an overkill.
Almost like a cooling off period?
Kai Campos: Yeah, I mean we didn't write anything for two years, so it was a good way to do it.
Dominic Maker: We feel stronger from that time off, after looking back at it.
Kai Campos: Part of it was just a break from writing. It was such a different process from writing music to doing the live shows. Creatively, in some ways, I don't think [playing live] can be as much as an immersive experience in terms of what you are creating. You're kind of trying to make the best version of something; you're constantly working on versions of stuff instead of really creating something new, which is what we got into it for.
It's certainly not the case that we would rather be in a studio, but it's kind of a different thing, you want to have a balance of the two. What we were left with [after touring] was energy. And actually I think confidence as well because a lot of ideas on the first record were left deliberately vague because we were unsure, and we were kind of saying, "This is a bit of an idea, but if you don't like it then that's cool because its only a sketch."
With this record it was much more of a commitment on our part in terms of what we wanted to do artistically, and I think we have put a lot more on the line creatively. Everything about this record is much bolder and is allowed to be a little bit more abstract.
Does this confidence extend to your stage presence and being in front of an audience?
Kai Campos: I try not to react too much to crowd reaction to songs because you take a lot more notice of the drunk people at the front screaming than you do of the people standing at the back. I'm not one of the people at the front screaming, but it doesn't mean I enjoy the music any less when I'm watching a band or anything else like that.
What are some of the fundamentals that have changed in the live set between the two albums?
Dominic Maker: Well we now have a drummer/singer/keyboardist/bassist. And we brought the pieces of kit that we use on the record along as well. We have the Tempest drum machine and a multi-track tape thing. It's left us room to be a bit more expressive with our individual roles. And then having Tony there it's made the sound a bit more dynamic and full.
And you recorded in a studio for this album?
Kai Campos: Yeah, it was a bit of a mixture. We went to a place in South Bermondsey that was a studio that we could access anytime, and we lived there so we weren't bothering anybody. It was empty when we moved in so it was just our stuff and what we'd made there was like a glorified bedroom setup, so quite a simple operation. We just used one-half of it for dumping stuff when we came back [from tour].
That was one side of it. Then when we were doing a track where we wanted to record live drums, and our place was just a bit too small and didn't really have the right mics, we went to a studio 100 metres down the road, which was really nice and run by this guy Andy Ramsay who was actually the drummer in Stereolab. We were supposed to be a couple of days there and we stayed for a couple of weeks because it was a treasure trove of old Stereolab gear.
Do you still use an improvised approach to recording?
Dominic Maker: It's just experimenting and seeing whatever the hell comes out.
Kai Campos: The start of it is always quite experimental, then after that we start thinking about it structurally.
Did you have the fact that you were writing a record for Warp in the back of your minds?
Kai Campos: For the most part of it we hadn't actually signed a contract, which was strange at first. When it wasn't going well at the beginning I thought, "We need to sign a contract with somebody because I don't know where this record is going, or even if we're making a record. I need to have a purpose with this to justify my life—I'm getting up at 12 and ambling over to the studio to work on this thing." But I think it was more a case of just falling back in love with making music.
So yeah, we didn't actually have a record deal when we were making most of the record, which was interesting. Then when we did sign, I think that one of the reasons was that we didn't feel like they had any expectations for what the record was going to sound like at all, and didn't seem like they were hoping for us to cash in on any small amount of success we had with the last one. It seemed like they were genuinely interested in what we were doing, knowing that it would probably be a little bit different to the last record.
You've mentioned a few times that the new record is more direct and open. Do think this is symptomatic of your growth as musicians? I think placing the vocals more upfront is perhaps a good example of this.
Kai Campos: I think it's more of an attitude shift than anything in terms of technical ability, but we've definitely learnt a lot about music along the way. I think that's the best thing about having any kind of success with a first record: it just gives you the time and space to dedicate to learning. I think it's just the space and time that you get from the freedom of having any kind of success at the beginning, and so you can spend the day reading about something that if you had a job you wouldn't necessarily be able to do or have the energy to do.
In terms of making decisions and putting music together, I think we've probably improved a lot, and also just my understanding of what is good music and what that means in terms of the relationship between that and musician shit and how connected or disconnected they are.
The one thing that the albums do have in common is a hazy aesthetic. Have you thought much about what it is that draws you towards that?
Kai Campos: I think when in the early days listening to music with the intention of sampling it, it was always very rewarding to find something that wasn't necessarily meant to be musical, and turning it into something that was musical. That was quite a rewarding process and led to a lot of happy accidents, which just seemed like a really good process because it triggers you off in different directions.
If you sit down at a piano with an idea, it's very different to manipulating sounds then having the idea from something you did by accident. So the nature for going for stuff that is not necessarily musical is that it comes with a lot of artefacts normally, like maybe a tone in there. There's also a hum and something else from the recording because it's not meant to be recorded music, so I think it kind of came with that.
But I guess there's always the element of holding something back and not showing everything you have in one go, which is maybe quite an English thing.
Why did you see King Krule as a good fit for this record? How did that collaboration come about?
Dominic Maker: We had heard "Out Getting Ribs," the Zoo Kid song that he did, and we really liked his voice and the way that he writes music, and the way that he tells stories. We weren't particularly up for having anyone on the record. It wasn't really a major part of it. But if it was going to be anyone, it was going to be him.
Was he a fan of yours?
Kai Campos: Yeah, which made it a bit easier. And he wanted to come and listen to what we were working on, which was great. That was the only way we really wanted to work with anyone was if they were involved from quite an early stage. We weren't going to send someone the mp3 and say, "Write vocals for it," so he came in and listened to what we were doing really early on when everything was about 20 seconds long, and picked out stuff that he was getting excited about and just took away mp3s. Then he came back and did a verse, and then we would start writing a song around what we were doing together. It was a pretty enjoyable, pretty easy process, really. It was not at any time awkward or we never felt like, "Should we do this?" There wasn't that much talking about it, which is a really good sign, I think.
So how long have you guys known each other for now?
Kai Campos: 2008 or 2007? We started the band pretty soon after.
Was there a common ground that brought you together?
Kai Campos: Yeah, a lack of money and living in the same building and wanting to do something.
And why do you think it has worked between you?
Kai Campos: That ability to not have to talk about what we're doing all the time, and shared goals and shared respect for what we think is good about music and the culture of music.
Do you tend to agree on most stuff?
Kai Campos: If we're watching something and I'm like, "This is amazing," then I can be pretty sure that Dom thinks the same thing. And when I'm like, "This is offensively bad, this act is really pissing me off…" I'm pretty sure that Dom feels the same. When we were first getting excited about certain sounds, I guess that was a good indication that in some way it was going to work.